Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s few providers of late-term abortions, called on the federal government to treat as hate crimes all activities by “anti-choice domestic terrorists,” compared the slain Dr. George Tiller to Martin Luther King and said planting crosses was equivalent to actions by the Ku Klux Klan.
“This is the equivalent of Martin Luther King being assassinated,” Dr. Carhart said of the May 31 slaying of one of America’s best-known late-term abortion providers. “This is the equivalent of Pearl Harbor, the sinking of the Lusitania and any other major historic event where we’ve tolerated the intolerable for too long.”
Scott P. Roeder, 51, has been charged with first-degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of Dr. Tiller.
“I think there is absolutely no difference in putting a cross in front of a person’s home because of what race they belong to than there is putting a cross in front of our homes because we do abortions,” said Dr. Carhart, who assisted Dr. Tiller in providing late-term abortions at his Wichita, Kan., practice every three weeks.
Dr. Carhart’s abortion clinic, based near Omaha, Neb., performs almost 2,000 abortions a year, though he cannot perform them after 24 weeks’ gestation because Nebraska law forbids post-viability abortions. Dr. Carhart, who was the plaintiff in both the Supreme Court decisions on partial-birth abortion, could not say what will be the Wichita clinic’s fate.
“I just got off the phone with Mrs. Tiller,” he said, “and I know no decisions have been made about anything. What I want to assure the press and reassure the women of America is that we will somehow, somewhere continue to provide abortions later in gestation.”
Dr. Carhart, 67, was in Washington for a memorial service Monday evening at National City Christian Church in honor of Dr. Tiller.
About 300 people attended the service and heard Dr. Carhart talk about his late friend.
In a quivering voice and apologizing for losing his composure, Dr. Carhart spoke of Dr. Tiller’s early life as a pots-and-pans salesman. He said Dr. Tiller’s motto was that “when the going gets tough, the tough get Dairy Queen.”
The mood quickly turned serious, though, as Dr. Carhart’s voice broke, and he pleaded with the crowd to treat “anti-choice domestic crimes as crimes of hate.”
Observing the crowd were U.S. marshals and also a private security detail that was hired for the occasion, said Marjorie Signer, communications director for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. These observers were stationed at the entrances and also seated in the pews.
Speaking earlier at an afternoon news conference organized by the coalition, which encompasses 40 denominations and religious groups, he said the matter of whether to have a child is “a religious freedom issue” that revolves around a woman’s right to decide according to her beliefs whether to bear a child, he said.
“God gave that fetus a ‘guardian ad litem’ when he chose the mother that fetus is born with,” he said. “That mother, I feel, has been charged by God to make the right choices for that child during its unborn and early born years.”
Dr. Carhart said he considered becoming a Methodist minister at one point, and at the press conference blamed the pro-life movement and its churches for a decline in religion.
“Not that we’ve lost religion,” he clarified, “because a lot of these religions are fostering these horrific ideas,” referring to killing abortion providers.
Dr. Carhart refused to talk about whether he had federal marshal protection. He said he did not have marshals protecting him before the Tiller killing.
• Ben Conery and Kristi Jourdan contributed to this report.